MBB: Late A&M Run Thwarts NU's Upset Bid

By at January 9, 2010 | 7:02 PM | Print

Giving up offensive rebounds. Settling for bad 3-pointers early in the shot clock. Failing to foul the wrong opposing guards in endgame situations.

Nebraska’s young basketball team could get away with those mistakes against Southern Utah and Jackson State. Not on the road at Texas A&M, which used a 24-11 run in the last ten minutes of the game to break open a nip/tuck game and beat the Cornhuskers 64-53.

The thing that concerned me coming into the game was I wanted to have a chance with five minutes to go in the game," NU head coach Doc Sadler said. "That’s where toughness kicks in. You’ve got to find a way to win the game. Obviously they were little bit tougher than us mentally. They made plays and we didn’t. Welcome to the road and welcome to the league. I can’t say I’m totally disappointed though, especially when you look at the number of young guys I played. But we have to get tough quick.”

A&M guard Donald Sloan led all scorers with 26 points, punctuating the win with an alley-oop jam.

While NU (12-4 overall, 0-1 in the Big 12 Conference) controlled the tempo for most of the game and held A&M (12-3, 1-0) to 38 percent shooting, the Aggies enjoyed a 33-9 advantage in free throw attempts and a 39-25 cushion on the boards, which included 12 offensive rebounds.

“In all four of losses this year, the biggest problem is putting teams at a free throw line,” Sadler said. “They shot 33 free throws. We shot nine. And you’re not going to win many road games shooting 24 fewer free throws.”

Both categories played a key role in the Aggies’ deciding run, which started after Nebraska freshman Christian Standhardinger – making an auspicious debut with 13 points and 7 rebounds after sitting out the non-conference season – nailed a 3-pointer to give the Huskers a 42-40 lead with 10:29 left.

Over the next five minutes, Nebraska scored one point. A&M scored 11, and nine of them were free throws. After settling for their own bad perimeter shots for most of the game – the Aggies made only 3-of-21 from beyond the arc – Sloan began to attack the basket, slashing into the lane while senior Sek Henry, the primary defender on Sloan, was sitting on the bench with three fouls.

Then, after center Jorge Brian Diaz – who finished with 10 points – scored a transition layup to cut the lead to 51-45, A&M forward Nathan Walkup hit a wide open back-breaking 3-pointer with 4:29 left. NU never got closer than seven after that, as Sadler said the Huskers “panicked a little bit” taking deep, desperate 3-pointers when there was enough time to work for easier two-pointers. Although the Aggies are only shooting free throws at a 64 percent clip for the season, the Huskers repeatedly fouled Sloan – whose season average is 77 percent – instead of going after players whose percentages were much lower.

The Huskers also seemed to struggle with a quick whistle in their first Big 12 game. Two other league games Saturday, Texas-Colorado and Missouri-Kansas State, had 54 and 56 fouls called in them, respectively.

The upside of Saturday night: NU’s freshman-laden team competed with the faster Aggies, and Standhardinger more than looked like he belonged.

The downside: NU next gets No. 1 Kansas – presuming the Jayhawks can beat Tennessee Sunday – at home on Wednesday. KU is the only Big 12 team Sadler hasn’t beaten.

“We got to play much better than we did tonight,” Sadler said. “But, at the same time, we’re going to compete hard, and if we makes some shots – we have a chance.”

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